It was billed as a retreat, but more than a few thought it was like a convention since there wasn’t a lot of down time. It was supposed to be a retreat, but it was, I think, a family reunion. We all, just short of 60, participated in the annual Clergy Retreat. We had pastors, chaplains, associate pastors, retired pastors, and a visiting military chaplain. They came from all around Texas and Louisiana, from congregations large and small; but we all had something in common: a love of God and one another.
We are still at the front end of the coming Lenten season, but I have a confession to make. I love the people who lead our congregations and also those who serve as chaplains. Having done both in my career I know how demanding are the tasks. Our conference is blessed to be populated by such a fine group of caring and competent individuals. Honestly, I keep pinching myself at the opportunity to serve God alongside such a fine group. This latest time together also helped me to realize, despite the challenging times we all face as clergy, we have great morale. We are excited and determined to lead our people and congregations into the new day that God has for us.
The design of the retreat was two-fold. We had three devotional times of approximately 90 minutes each and three discussion areas of 90 minutes as well. Our devotional times were comprised of meditation, a scriptural narrative, more meditation about the passage, a small group discussion, and a closing with sharing in the full group.
Alternating with the devotional time was a discussion of three areas of priority going forward that came from a leadership retreat involving your South Central Board of Directors. The first area of discussion concerned the need for spiritual renewal on the part of clergy. Our operating assumption was that our congregations were highly unlikely to be spiritually vital unless their leaders are plugged in spiritually. We dialogued about our fear as progressives that a spirituality emphasis might make us appear to be someone we are not and about how we need to get over that fear.
The second area of discussion concerned the critical need for planting new congregations along with the necessity of moving away from the past tradition of buying and maintaining property. We termed this the “edifice complex.” Along with this came a discussion of the need to re-develop existing congregations that had fallen on hard times.
The third priority area concerned living out the Gospel ethics modeled by Jesus the Christ. Any honest reading of the New Testament gospels will confront one with the reality that Jesus was a prophetic presence in his world who spoke truth to power. The vast majority of his time and witness concerned feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed, healing the sick, and embracing the outcast. Much of American Christianity is not living out this ideal, but we can, we should, and we in the UCC are attempting to do so.
The energy that surrounded our discussions was phenomenal, and one could not help but come away energized and excited. There were no lectures or special speakers at our retreat so the energy and excitement originated out of the minds and hearts of those present. Personally, I wish to thank all of the those present, including the staff at Slumber Falls, who gave of themselves so freely, thus creating a powerful and memorable experience.
So what about the next family gathering? June seems far away now, but it won’t be long. We will be gathering this year at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas for our Annual Meeting. It will be an important time that you will not want to miss. So mark your calendars now for June 9-10. See you in Dallas.